Philadelphia Theatre Company honors sanitation workers with new production

For the kick-off of its 47th season, Philadelphia Theatre Company returns with a fresh, off-beat buddy comedy about two essential workers from different worlds who discover there’s more that binds them than taking out the trash.

Lindsay Joelle’s ‘The Garbologists’ is a hopeful story that features a white, conservative, proud union member and a Black, liberal, ivy-educated newbie who just joined the sanitation route. When they find something on the curb too valuable to throw away, they’re forced to re-evaluate each other and accept each other on their own terms. Directed by Brooklyn-based Estefanía Fadul, ‘The Garbologists’ stars Bensalem native Ngozi Anyanwu, joined by Philadelphia favorite Steven Rishard.

“When I first read The Garbologists, the writing struck me as so deceptively funny, yet the themes of the play were really deep,” said PTC Producing Artistic Director Paige Price (she/her), in a statement. “It was 2018, and we were talking about how relevant this show was even then. I mean, the metaphors about what people toss aside and how one person’s trash is another’s treasure. It sounded like pure gold, couched in an intimate buddy comedy with two unlikely truck mates. It just felt so fresh and I knew audiences who were just getting their theatre sea legs would really enjoy this world premiere. I had no idea several years later this story would become so timely and relevant during the pandemic.”

In the story, Danny is a white, blue-collar mansplainer hiding a heart of gold. Marlowe is a Black, Ivy League-educated newbie who just joined his route. When these two polar opposites are thrown together on Marlowe’s first day at the city sanitation department, they’re forced to find a steady rhythm, despite their differences. This odd couple starts their 6 a.m. shift trading barbs, one-upping each other and practicing the secret art of mongo: hunting for treasure in the trash. Somewhere along the route, Danny slowly earns Marlowe’s trust by sharing hard-earned tricks of the trade. As Marlowe and Danny’s lives become increasingly entwined, their initial bickering gives way to a reluctant bond over the broken, beautiful things people discard in the trash.

Philadelphia Theatre Company

For research for the production, the playwright went into the actual streets and back alleys of America with sanitation workers from around the county. Joelle said, “The Garbologists is the product of five years of research and fieldwork with sanitation workers who generously showed me around their trucks, garages, and (my favorite), the secret NYC Museum of Trash. The play’s world premiere was postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, during which time sanitation men and women around the country proved how truly essential they are to our daily health and safety. Working one of the top five most dangerous jobs in the country, they are our nation’s unsung heroes, and I hope this funny, provocative, heartwarming play will shine a light on their stories.”

Individual tickets are now on sale for ‘The Garbologists’ starting at $35. Subscriptions to the Philadelphia Theatre Company 2021-2022 season are available for purchase. PTC also continues its 10Tix program with the support of PNC Arts Alive, and this year essential workers, including sanitation workers, first responders, healthcare heroes, and front line workers, will receive special advance access to a reserved set of 10Tix for each performance as thanks for their bravery and perseverance during the pandemic.

Tickets, subscriptions and more information can be found online at www.philatheatreco.org or by phone at 215-985-0420. Connect on social with Philadelphia Theatre Company at @philatheatreco on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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